You know, remoting refactored Windows desktop apps for mobile devices isn't actually that bad

Back when I got started in the server-based computing (SBC) industry (which was, wow, seventeen years ago!), we used Citrix software to remote Windows desktop applications to client computers hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Back when I got started in the server-based computing (SBC) industry (which was, wow, seventeen years ago!), we used Citrix software to remote Windows desktop applications to client computers hundreds or thousands of miles away. One of the big use cases of SBC back then was that we could get decent performance from "fat" client/server applications over "thin" WAN connections. Sure, we had to remote the user interface, but we found that remoting protocols like ICA provided a better overall experience for the users as opposed to running the full fat client app on a client workstation connecting to some server back-end across the WAN. (With SBC, the fat client application would run blazingly fast since it was sitting in the same datacenter as its back-end.)

I remember thinking at the time (and writing) that I viewed that using SBC technology to remote Windows desktop apps would only be a "stop gap" measure. (I comically thought that eventually all apps would be rewritten as web apps and that Windows-based SBC would be rendered obsolete.) As time went on, traditional web apps started to be replaced by interactive web apps (remember Ajax?) and ultimately today's rich HTML5-based websites and apps. We also saw the introduction of mobile devices and tablets with their own local rich applications, and again believed that the "best" type of application for a tablet would be an app written specifically for that platform. (After all, what would you rather use on an iPad? The Safari browser connecting to Outlook Web Access or the built-in iOS Mail app?)

But now that we've had iPads for a few years, we're still seeing a strong use case for running Windows desktop applications remotely (whether VDI or RDSH) with their UIs remoted to the tablet. For the past few years I've been thinking, "Man, when are they going to make an iPad-native version of 'x' app?," But now I'm starting to realize that remoting the Windows desktop app isn't that bad!

After all, the desktop virtualization vendors are getting better at integrating remote Windows desktop apps with iOS. We're seeing all sorts of UI enhancement tricks (invoking the local keyboard, using the local drop-down list picker instead of the remote Windows one, putting icons for the app directly onto the iOS app launcher, etc.). And we're seeing new vendors like Framehawk whose sole purpose is to refactor and remote the Windows desktop application experience in a way that makes sense on tablets. (Man, I love Framehawk and need to write more about them. Stay tuned!)

Given the fact that most Windows desktop applications require Windows, I can say that I've changed my mind when it comes to the "best" way to remote them. While my old view was to hold out hope for real native tablet apps, my new view is that remoting them with some app refactoring is the way to go. I now believe that just like the 1990s, we can actually get a better experience by running the existing Windows desktop application on a real Windows computer running in a datacenter with high-speed access to everything it needs, and the best way to get it to tablet-based users in the world is to remote the UI with Citrix, VMware, Framehawk, Dell vWorkspace, Ericom, or something like that.

A big change of heart for me! But I'm on board with it. Are you?

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Desktop Virtualization and Mobility

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